More than two dozen members of Congress are urging a House subcommittee to keep the District's needle exchange program intact next year, a move intended to ward off the perennial threat on Capitol Hill to the program's funding.
D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and 31 other representatives sent a letter this week to the leadership of the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, asking the committee to continue allowing the city to use its own money to fund its needle exchange program in next year's federal budget.
The city last fiscal year spent roughly $580,000 on the program through grants given to three clinics, according to the D.C. Council Committee on Health. In fiscal 2010, the program cost $744,000 for four clinics.
The District's needle-exchange efforts were enacted after Congress lifted a ban in 2007, and the city says it got 320,000 needles off the street in 2010. Last year, Norton claimed Congress had "killed" D.C. residents by not allowing the District to enact needle-exchange programs in the past despite an incredibly high rate of HIV/AIDS infection in the nation's capital.
"The most needless loss of life and increase in infection occurred in the District of Columbia because Congress usurped the local government's right to spend its local funds to benefit its own local citizens," Norton said in a statement Thursday.
The District's rate of people with AIDS/HIV is 320 cases in every 10,000 people, and many of the infections are due to transmission through needles.
The needle exchange program is often used as a bargaining chip during the federal budget approval process. Locally funded abortion programs face similar threats, and last year the city lost the ability to subsidize abortions as part of an 11th-hour compromise to avoid a federal government shutdown.
At-large Councilman David Catania, who chairs the council health committee, said the program has had "a real impact on the rate of transmission" and "rightfully should be under local control."